Following the completion of the cycle track from the city center along the A34 to Heathfield Road, many people asked when the route would be completed by taking it through Perry Barr. The plans for that extension have now been released as part of the redevelopment of Perry Barr center with the preparations for the Commonwealth Games in 2022. The logic for this was good - the initial Birmingham Cycle Revolution money could be focused on delivering a high quality route up to Heathfield Road, and with the removal of the Perry Barr flyover later on, more space would be found for fitting in a wide high quality cycle track. In addition, it is cheaper to fit in cycle infrastructure when the whole road is being redeveloped. The downside of developing the plans later on, however, is that the plans that have been released have fallen back from the high level of ambition the first section has. Yet again, we will need to push Birmingham City Council to raise their ambitions and deliver high quality cycle infrastructure that everyone will want to cycle on.
The consultation can be found on the Birmingham BeHeard website, and closes on the 19th July 2019.
Edited: We have created an editable quick response to the consultation that focuses only on asking for the plans to match the same standards at side roads and main junctions as the two existing cycle tracks. The form will send an email to Birmingham City Council to let them know that you want them to be more ambitious. Link to quick response.
Push Bikes' ambitions for cycle infrastructure:
We want Birmingham to have cycle infrastructure that everyone from 5 to 99 years old feels comfortable cycling on, and which provides a journey time comparable to cycling along the general carriageway. This means we want to have:
- Protected, segregated space for cycles at major junctions.
- Separate space for cycles and walking at all junctions.
- Continuity for cycle tracks across side roads.
If cycle infrastructure does not meet these requirements, we will have a two-tier cycle infrastructure where the less confident cycle users will take the slow route along disjointed cycle infrastructure, while confident faster cycle users will cycle on the general carriageway and bus lanes. This would create confusion among all road users and encourages hostility while discouraging cycling.
The plans do not meet our ambitions. This is very disappointing because the designs for the cycle track from the city center to Heathfield Road represent current best practice in the UK. If the new plans are implemented, it will be an embarrassing step backwards when cities like London and Manchester continue to improve their level of ambition. Both Birmingham City Council and the West Midlands Combined Authority have stated policy that they want to deliver cycle infrastructure that is among the best in the UK - these proposals do not meet that policy. With the Commonwealth Games coming to Birmingham in 2022, there will be high volumes of spectators using public transport and then walking to get to the venues. We hope that there will also be many people choosing to cycle to avoid traffic jams and to ease some of the pressure on trains and buses. The world will be looking at Birmingham, and we need to be showcasing cycle infrastructure that is fit for purpose and does not create issues for people cycling on it or spectators trying to get around the city.
At major junctions, we want to see cycle tracks continue straight across, to provide cycle users a direct and attractive route. We have junctions just like that in Birmingham at: The Lozells Road junction; the Newbury Road junction; the Newtown Middleway junction; the Belgrave Middleway junction with Bristol Road; the Priory Road junction;the Edgbaston Road junction. There is no reason why the new plans cannot deliver a similar experience.
At side roads, we also want to see cycle tracks continue straight across. On the existing A34 route, we have that on the following side roads: Vesey Street; Price Street; Princip Street; Lower Tower Street; Johnstone Street; Wilson Road. At Cecil Street and Milton Street, we have a new style of zebra crossing, where cycles have a segregated space next to the pedestrian section of the zebra crossing. The new plans seem to show give-way markings at each side road, which will impact on the speed of people cycling along those routes and provide a significant time delay. My main concern is that we need to have consistency in what happens when cycle tracks meet side roads, so that people become used to one style and understand how to behave. It is foolish to install continuous cycle track for half of the route and then for the second half have the cycle track stop at each side road.
For bus stops and crossings, we want to see continuous cycle tracks, rather than the cycle tracks end and shared-use pavements used. We believe that by keeping cycle tracks continuous, people who are walking can see clearly where cycles will go. This should increase their comfort levels, as they know where to stand or walk without worrying about being hit by a cycle. Because cycle users travel more slowly than cars, averaging between 10 and 15 mph on the flat, it is easier to cross even 3 metre wide cycle tracks. For people who are cycling, keeping the cycle track continuous means that they also can better predict where people will be walking, and also they will find that the cycle track is generally clear of people standing and waiting. There is a more direct clear route open than with shared use pavements, where people waiting for a crossing or a bus will be dotted across the pavement. In areas with a high pedestrian footfall, this is especially important because a crowded shared use pavement can result in a cycle user having to slow down to a walking pace or even having to get off and push past people waiting.
With toucan crossings, we want to see a continuous, segregated, cycle track wherever possible. At a couple of points along the route, the cycle track becomes shared use pavement, so that people cycling and walking can all be taken across the same space on a toucan crossing. The problem with this is that people on a cycle can cross roads much faster than people walking, but are far less agile at turning left or right either end of a crossing. While going over a crossing, the people who are walking hold up the people who are cycling, but at either end of the crossing, the people cycling present a problem for people who are walking and turning left or right. The design of a crossing should enable people to get over and off the road as smoothly and quickly as possible, but combining walking and cycling modes impedes this. When cycling and walking are separated, people who are cycling can cross much faster, and so a greater volume of cycle users can get across in one phase, while the people who are walking feel more comfortable and don't have to worry about cycles at either end.
Heathfield Road junction:
The shared use pavement just beyond this junction is currently unavoidable because of the space restrictions between the general carriageway, which is constrained by the edge of the flyover, and the property boundaries of the houses. But it is worth adding that this "lack of space" issue arises only because of the perceived need for eight lanes of motor traffic. The existing pedestrian crossings, however, are too narrow to carry substantial flows of cycle users. Moreover, with four toucan crossings to be negotiated just to continue along the cycleway, cycle users will be delayed unacceptably. If there is a two minute delay at each one, that will mean it will take cycle users eight minutes to travel just a few metres. This is completely unreasonable. Also, the island between the motor traffic turning right into Trinity Road and the motor traffic travelling down the A34 towards the city centre is very narrow. It is too small to provide space for bikes to stop between phases, especially any longer cargo bikes or tandems. A diagonal crossing for cycles to the corner with Holy Trinity church could be used to take them across when the right turning motor traffic has their green phase, which would provide a crossing segregated in time from the general motor traffic and segregated in space from the pedestrians.
Canterbury Road junction:
The shared use pavement on the approach to this junction is unavoidable because of the existing pedestrian underpass. We have been told that there is not a high level of pedestrian footfall here, so a section of shared use pavement may be an acceptable compromise. At the junction itself, it is important that the cycle track and the pedestrians have priority over the side road. The cycle track should start before the junction and be continuous across it. Cars turning into and out of Canterbury Road can get out of the way of motor traffic travelling along the A34 because of the bus lane, so there is space for them to stop and give way for cycles. This would inconvenience buses at most by a few seconds, but would provide a very valuable continuity to the cycle track to encourage more people to use it, rather than the bus lane itself. More people cycling in the bus lane will create more delays to buses than a few seconds delay due to cars giving way at this junction.
The Broadway and Bragg Road junctions:
These junctions also need to have continuous cycle tracks and pavements. At The Broadway especially, there is ample space to provide stopping space for motor traffic just off the main road, so that they can safely give way to cycles and people walking. If Bragg Road is not thought to have enough space for that, then it should be closed off in the same way that Thornbury Road is, or turned into a one-way exit onto the main road. By stopping motor traffic turning into Bragg Road, cycle users and pedestrians could cross more easily and there would be less delay for buses.
A4040 and A34 junction:
This junction is being changed from a roundabout to a signalised crossroads. The central part of the roundabout, which currently has pedestrian subways and an open view of the motor traffic underpass, will be covered over, to provide space for motor traffic to drive across. The current plans show the cycle track stopping and cycle users being forced to use shared space pavements and staggered toucan crossings. It is clear that the row of buildings where Barclays Bank is on the corner is going to be demolished, as the current pavement is not wide enough to provide space for the cycle track and pavement show on the plans. It should be possible to take a little more space to enable the cycle track to continue continuously across this junction on the same phase as an all-green for pedestrian crossings. The Ranty Highwayman blog, written by a British traffic engineer, has some designs that could be adapted for this situation, Floating crosses and free left turns. If cycle users have to share a staggered toucan crossing, many cycle users simply will refuse to use the cycle track and will instead keep on cycling on the main road in the bus lanes, impacting on bus times.
In addition, it is very important that future cycle tracks are considered. The A4040 will need to have cycle tracks alongside it in the future as part of the network of cycle routes being planned out in the Local Cycling and Walking Investment Plan. The current plans for this junction do not consider how cycle users can smoothly and safely reach all four arms of this junction. At the Bristol Road / Priory Road junction, part of the junction will be dug up again in a few months time to accommodate a new cycle track going along Priory Road. We ought to be designing major junctions from the very start to accommodate future cycle tracks, to avoid expensive retrofitting, as noted in the West Midlands Combined Authority cycle charter. Let's get the junction right now, when it is cheap and easy to install.
Aldridge Road junction:
At this junction, there will only be buses exiting Aldridge Road, yet the plans show the cycle track stopping for a shared-use crossing. This is a very poor design. The cycle track should be continuous across the junction, with a t-junction for the cycle track going up along Aldridge Road. The pedestrian pavement should have an uncontrolled crossing of the cycle track, and then continue up between Aldridge Road and the cycle track to reach the bus stops. After the bus stops, there can be a crossing back to the back of the pavement. This is such a simple junction, there should be no problems in getting this right and giving good continuity to the cycle tracks.
Toucan crossing in front of the One Stop Shopping Centre:
This staggered crossing will be uncomfortable for people walking and cycling to share together, especially as this is an area which will have a high volume of pedestrian traffic. As there are eight traffic lanes to cross, it may not be possible to provide a single phase cycle crossing separate to the pedestrian crossing, and so the crossings should be widened to maximise volume. Additionally, it would be better if the cycleway on the Aldridge Road was curved in towards the crossing, so it meets the crossing normal to the kerb, eliminating the need for cycle users to rotate through ninety degrees at the crossing. This would also allow the cycleway to cross the bus lane at ninety degrees, giving better sight-lines, and make a more direct route for people heading between the shopping centre and the Aldridge Road.
To ease pressure on the cycle track, it would be good to continue the cycle track along the east side of Walsall Road to the junction in front of the Greyhound Stadium. At that junction, a single phase across to the triangular traffic island can be provided, to coincide with the green phase for the south-bound traffic on Walsall Road. There can then be an on-demand crossing on the left-turn lane and the cycle track continued up along to the junction with Cliveden Avenue at least. This would provide a cycle track that would accommodate cycle users travelling south down Walsall Road, to bypass the busy front of the One Stop Shopping Centre, and provide more cycle routes around this complex junction.
Birchfield Road junction next to the River Tame:
This area will have a high volume of pedestrians, so it is important that cycle users have a segregated crossing away from people walking. The cycle track needs to be continuous across this junction, to provide an attractive route that everyone will want to cycle on. The current proposal is for an on-demand straight across toucan crossing, so providing a parallel cycle track would not impact on the signal timings here. With no pedestrian crossings to the east side of this junction, there is no reason why a separate cycle track can not be provided here.
Aldridge Road junction outside the Greyhound Stadium:
The plans as they stand remove existing pedestrian crossings here. It is not acceptable to substantially increase the distance and time it would take for people to get across this road, and with the wide central reservation, people will cross here regardless of whether there are safe crossings or not. There should be crossings provided here so that people cycling and walking can cross over. This would mean that there would have to be a traffic-light controlled crossing on the north-bound side of Aldridge Road, but this is the only extra delay that would be needed here, and could be linked up to the traffic lights at the Wellhead Lane junction.